How To Inspire The Next Generation of Teen Innovators

Startup thinking is a crucial skill that can be developed to help young people become the change-makers and success stories of tomorrow.

Today’s most successful entrepreneurs think up completely new ways of executing business that often disrupt the status quo. They have the resilience and gain the resources it takes to innovate. By looking to them, we are able to gain an understanding of what it takes to create success in the modern world.

Photo: Christine Hutchison, Founder of Teen Innovators | Source: Courtesy Photo
Photo: Christine Hutchison, Founder of Teen Innovators | Source: Courtesy Photo

Startup thinking is a crucial skill that can be developed to help young people become the change-makers and success stories of tomorrow. You can invest in your child’s future by helping them look at the world in ways that allow them to unleash their true creative potential.

The economy is changing rapidly, and a future workforce that produces rewarding careers and a thriving economy is developing. Our children need access to the tools needed to meet the challenges and reap the new opportunities presented, and this level of executive functioning is not taught in school.

Heather E. McGowan, future of work strategist, author, and advisor posits that our new emerging economy requires an ‘internally validated identity born of self-awareness and coupled with learning agility and adaptability,’ which points to re-imagining education. Teen Innovators works to bridge the gap, by fostering and encouraging an innovative mindset in young teens and tweens, through mentorship and leadership classes led by highly-accomplished older teens.


Encourage your child to develop a startup mindset

Through our work with curious young problem-solvers, we’ve compiled these 5 key components of a startup mindset that you can begin to encourage in your child:



Over the past two decades, Elon Musk has launched several multibillion-dollar companies such as PayPal, Tesla and SpaceX. His success as a serial entrepreneur follows an eventful childhood in which a young Musk played with homemade rockets, and coded his own video games.

Ideation and problem solving begins with fostering a curious mindset. If your child is one of those who asks never-ending questions, try not to shut them down. Encourage them by saying, “good question,” and then recommending they do some research on the topics that most interest them. Suggest that they report back to you 3 new things on the topic, to keep it simple and actionable.



Encourage optimism and ideation with the idea that the universe is filled with infinite possibilities. Try not to shut down their problem-solving ideas. Even Jeff Bezos thought it was only 30% possible that Amazon would succeed.

Entrepreneurs of today must remain open to possibilities, or they risk shutting down their own ideas before they even see the light of day. Suggest they keep a journal of new ideas and issue solutions. On down days, instead of scrolling social, suggest they review their idea journal to see if anything new arises.



Harvard Business School professor and disruption guru Clayton Christensen says that a disruption displaces an existing market, industry, or technology and produces something new and more efficient and worthwhile. It is at once destructive and creative. Showing kids an example of a disruptive business, such as Airbnb can be helpful, as a way of showing them how applying new technologies can create a completely new business model that requires very little overhead expense.



Life is one big persuasive argument, and people who approach life with the most confidence are much more likely to get what they want. Encourage your child to release the need to be certain, and really believe in themselves. It’s natural for us to have fears, and successful innovators know how to move past them and continue on their path to success. Even something as simple as the now-famous “power pose,” can help your child overcome anxiety and regain self-confidence ahead of an important meeting, test, presentation or event.



Jeff Bezos famously said, “People who are right a lot, they listen a lot, and people who are right a lot, change their mind a lot.” Innovators have to be open to new ideas and to changing their minds. Innovation starts with a great idea, yet startup thinking requires adaptability to make any changes that are necessary for success. It takes a balance of both conviction and openness. Explain this distinction to your child, and ask them to explain it back to you.


Inspiring your child’s innovative mindset

Now that you know how true innovators and disruptors will be the big success stories of tomorrow, here are our 3 top tips to OIL your child’s innovative mindset.



Notice what makes him curious, what he’s drawn to and passionate about, and what problems or issues are particularly upsetting or disturbing to him. Try not to let your own beliefs, preferences, and experience influence their passions. This can be tough, because we adults have our own ideas about success, and sometimes want to live vicariously through our kids.

Young minds have the flexibility to disrupt old ways of doing things, and that is the type of thinking that is most beneficial to nurture. Our peer mentors are trained to let our younger students lead the direction of their mentor sessions, following their interests and passions.



Talk to your child as much as you can about their areas of interest, and encourage them to develop possible solutions. Point to young people who have had success in a similar field. Showing them other young people who are already creative entrepreneurs can show them what is possible.

Limitations are the mind’s biggest enemy. By inspiring your child and showing her what’s possible, you will encourage the best kind of entrepreneurial mindset. Our peer mentors are trained to validate ideas, by offering a “Yes, And” approach to them.



Really be present with your child. Try to sit down for at least 15 minutes of uninterrupted time to ask them questions, and don’t offer solutions right away. If they’re ‘stuck,’ be sure to offer more than one idea, so there’s still a choice your child can make. By doing this, you’re teaching them discernment and critical thinking, as well as introducing decision-making skills, all key to success in today’s environment. Our peer mentors utilize an ideation funnel process to help them ideate and then narrow the scope of potential solutions to focus on and develop.


We hope you will try some of these tips for fostering an innovative mindset in your child. We’d love to hear your success stories and other ideas about how to encourage startup thinking!


Christine Hutchison is a serial entrepreneur, mother of two boys, and the founder of Teen Innovators, a mentorship community created to foster innovation in students age 11-16 and provide them with the tools and confidence they need to succeed as leaders of tomorrow. Their peer mentors are highly-accomplished older teens and young adults age 17-21, who are passionate about sharing their knowledge with their younger peers. They also offer free virtual events for teens and their parents. Register here for the next event in our Summer Innovator Series on July 20 at 7 p.m. Central.


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